Trustees adopt $32.6 million budget, set tax rate

By SHELLY WILKISON

Liberty Hill school trustees voted unaninously Monday to adopt a $32.6 million budget for fiscal 2014 and approved a tax rate of $1.54 per $100 property valuation.

Liberty Hill ISD Chief Financial Officer Frank Watson said the budget came in “in the black” with about $2,700 under projected revenues.

“It’s not by a great margin, but we’re there,” Watson said. “In the General Fund, revenues exceed expenditures.”

Since the first discussion on the budget in July, Watson said the district lost $25 million in revenues as a result of a drop in property values. He said Williamson County Appraisal District “didn’t stand strong against protests and values dropped.”

As a result, Watson said the budget had to be refigured, and a previously approved plan to refinance construction bonds will be expedited.

He said the drop in property value impacted the district’s Interest & Sinking Fund because the state has capped that tax rate at $0.50 per $100 valuation. The plan approved by trustees in July was to refinance bonds in September and again in the spring to get better interest rates and lower premiums. Instead, Watson said they will do a bigger refinancing and lower the premiums by about $300,000.

Record growth this fall will also mean increased state aid in the form of Average Daily Attendance (ADA). The school district receives state funds based on the number of students in attendance, and in fiscal 2014, that total is projected at $10,580,150.

Watson said the enrollment figure he used to figure ADA was 2,950. However, Superintendent Rob Hart said about 500 new students registered for school this summer, which could bring the total to 3,300 once the June 2014 graduates are subtracted.

“When the students come in, the dollars come in on the state side,” Watson said.

Local revenue generated from property taxes account for 63 percent of the school district’s income, while state funds account for 33 percent and federal funds, 4 percent.

Trustees voted unanimously to set the total tax rate at $1.54 per $100 of property value. Hart said the district is taxing at the maximum rate allowed by law — $1.04 for Maintenance & Operations and $0.50 for Interest & Sinking (debt service).

The M&O rate will generate $13,213,408 while the I&S rate will generate $6,352,600 for a combined projected revnue from local taxes of $19,566,008.

The district expects $1,424,115 in federal funding.

Watson explained that personnel costs represent more than 80 percent of district expenditures.

In fiscal 2014, all employees will receive a pay increase of 1.5 percent or about $900.

“The salary increase this year is not comparative to last year, but it keeps us in the ballpark with other districts,” Watson said. “However, most districts did raise salaries this year as well.”

In 2013, staff received an average 3 percent pay raise and saw a bump as the district implemented new pay scales. The payincreases were paproved after a salary study conducted by texas Association of School Boards showed Liberty Hill was falling behind. In 2011-2012, as other districts were laying off employees and closing campuses to try to make ends meet during a sweeping econmic downturn, Liberty Hill opted not to lay off workers. But to do so, all employees had to forgo a pay raise.

Previously concerned about rising costs in food services, Watson said he had been working with Sodexo, the district’s food service provider, about how to reduce costs and increase revenues.

“We put in some tighter controls and I feel confident we will be able to live within the budget,” he said.

When comparing the expenditures by fund, Watson noted that budgeted expenses for athletics far exceeds the total projected revenues.

In 2014-2015, the district will spend $936,735 on athletics and revenue is estimated at $134,898 — a $801,837 difference. Watson said revenues are only event ticket sales.

In other business Monday, trustees approved the creation of four teaching jobs and expect those jobs will be at kindergarten, fourth grade, third grade and sixth grade.

Hart explained that the district must meet a state-mandated 22-1 student-teacher ratio, and with the influx of hundreds of new students, the additional teaching positions were necessary.

“Classroom space is the next problem,” he said. Watching for rooms, but our inventory is dropping,” he said. “We can do 100 more (students) at Burden and 100 more at Elementary, which is about four classrooms each.”

“I feel strongly this time that the numbers are there (to add teachers),” Hart said.

“It’s real,” he said, referring to the growth in the district.

Following a 45-minute executive session, the Board voted to accept the resignations of Erin Knapik, the high school ASL teacher; Julie Shaffer, junior high science/coach; and Laura Meehan, a fourth grade teacher at Burden Elementary.

Trustees approved the employment of Christopher Klepper, adapted PE/homebound; Deborah Levee, science/coach; Amber Glass, lifeskills/resource; Callie Clarkson, sixth grade; Jacqueline Conley, resource; Joy Barreras, fourth grade; Emily Lively, fourth grade; Mary Lively, kindergarten; and Kenneth Kluver, third grade.

Also Monday, trustees heard a presentation by Curriculum Director Claudeane Braun regarding the state’s new accountability system and how Liberty Hill schools fared in the 2013-2014 academic year.

Liberty Hill ISD and each campus in the district earned the rating of “Met Standard” — the highest rating available under the new system.

Trustees also approved the 2014-2015 Code of Conduct and Student Handbook. The Code of Conduct contained no changes from last year, but the Handbook did reflect changes with regards to cafeteria regulations. The documents will be posted to the district’s website, www.libertyhill.txed.net.